Citizen Green: Chief Wayne Scott, in his own words

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Wayne Scott

by Jordan Green

 A 24-year veteran of the Greensboro Police Department, Wayne Scott was buzzing with energy on his sixth day on the job as the city’s new police chief. Engaging and approachable, he also displayed a sense of humor about himself.

When asked about the demographics of the department’s sworn employees, he slid across in his swivel chair from a conference table to his desk to pull up a document. Fumbling with a case, he sent his reading glasses flying through the air. Groaning to pick them up, the new chief joked, ‘I’m getting old.’

Within seconds a printer in the next office over had spit out a color chart, and the chief returned to the conference table and resumed a crisp articulation of his belief that the police force needs to reflect the diversity of the community.

Reaching out to faith leaders

“In my opinion, the thread that really binds the fabric of our community together is faith. And I fully acknowledge that there are some people that are not involved in the faith community, and were are gonna contact and be in touch with them as well. But the overwhelming majority of people have some contact — their father, their grandparents, if not themselves — in a faith community. So I think that’s a great place for us to begin communications. I’ve already started that in the last week. I have spoke one on one with the members of the Pulpit Forum. I have spoke one on one yesterday with a group of clergy from around the community called the Greensboro Faith Leaders Council.

“I’ve got really positive feedback from folks in the faith world, who have said, ‘You know, we would love to have that kind of contact with the chief.’ Given the national conversations around police interactions everybody thinks it’s a good idea. I’m excited to get it going. It’s going to take me a couple weeks to solidify what that’s going to look like, but I’m anxious to do it. But I even told the council yesterday that ‘I’m gonna even ask you what it looks like. How does it look? How does it come out? What’s the format?’ When you’re dealing with people of faith, some of the faiths are much different. But I think there are a few things that are common to all of them: It’s that they care for the people that they lead and they want the people they lead to have a good relationship with government, and particularly police. That’s a shared goal that I have.”

Neighborhood Oriented Policing

“When you get to know people the biases begin to go away. I’ve had some share of controversy about me being chief. My motto has been ‘Get to know me.’ Don’t make an assumption from a distance; that’s unfair. That’s the whole premise behind Neighborhood Oriented Policing. And you couple that with what we call problem solving, which is teaching our officers that they’re not just report takers. If that same officer comes through because you called 911 and someone stole your lawnmower, and that officer realizes after about three weeks that he’s taken four stolen lawnmower reports, well the traditional approach. We still want to do that. But the neighborhood-oriented policing guy may see you out with your mower across the street and say, ‘Hey guy, mowers are getting stolen. You need to chain it, not just put it under your porch.’”

Diversity

As it pertains to the diversity of the force, Chief Scott said his department’s primary goal is to increase the number of African-American officers, who currently make up about 22 percent of sworn employees, compared to 40.9 percent of the overall population.

“I’ve made it really clear that I want our organization to be reflective of the community: That’s what every police department should be. We’re not there yet. We do pretty good compared to police departments that are close to us. It’s difficult. And it’s a national problem to get people in the organization that are wanting to have the job, that are qualified and can pass the training, that help us be reflective. I would love to have more bilingual officers.

“The good news is we’re making progress, and our next academy is one of the more diverse ones we’ve had in the last few years.” 

Race relations

“It’s an extremely complex issue. It is not as simple as comparing statistical data, because I think the things that drive those statistics are complex. We can say that ‘X amount of the population in the city of Greensboro is Caucasian, X amount is African American,’ and then we say that ‘X amount of the arrests are this or this.’ And you can look at those numbers and say, ‘There’s a problem.’ And there may be. But reality doesn’t play into the socioeconomics; it really doesn’t play into who are our suspects in crimes. When you look at simply arrests versus population, you have to look at who are our suspected criminals? And those are not generated by the police department. If we go to the 7-Eleven and a Hispanic male has robbed the 7-Eleven, then I’m looking for a Hispanic male. Those have been cited to me. We need to back up and look at who’s committing our crimes, and who’s being reported as committing our crimes, not by the police — not necessarily through an investigative tool — but you’re the victim; you’re telling me who’s committing the crime. So what we really need to look at are the actions when the officer is making the decision….

“I would like to look at crimes that are committed by people of similar races, whether that be our Asian community committing crimes against our Asian community, our white community against our white community, our black community against our black community, because what you will see is the numbers are pretty astounding that people in general victimize their own. That’s just the truth. I’ve seen it with our Hispanic community. I’ve seen it with our African-American community. I’ve seen it with our white Caucasian community. So when you begin to look at those things, then we are going to have higher arrests if we have higher perpetration of a particular kind of crime. Fair enough?

“I’m not saying by any means that there’s not disparate treatment. I’m saying that there’s a lot that goes into it, and there’s complexity that we have to look at. You can’t just say, ‘Look how many people are arrested.’ It’s kind of like the argument people make about, ‘Look how many people are in jail.’ Well, the police are not the mechanism that puts people in jail or in prison. The court system is involved, the defense counsel, the decision around socioeconomics — can you afford particular defenses or whatever. So it’s not all about there’s a large population of African-American males in prison doesn’t directly equate to the Greensboro Police Department arrests a lot of African Americans.”

Implicit bias

Chief Scott said he doesn’t believe there’s any intentional bias at an institutional level in the department, “but we are a very large organization — I have 800-plus employees — I’m not foolish [enough] to think that I don’t have employees that make mistakes.”

“There’s a discussion around explicit and implicit bias, and I’m sure you’ve heard about that. One is going to be centered around intentional biases toward people. But what we find is that implicit bias occurs in everyone, across genders, across races, across religious backgrounds, and we have begun to train our officers to at least be able to recognize those biases. And we believe by recognizing them that we defuse many of them. You know, ‘I don’t know I did it.’ And some of them are very subtle. Really some of the stronger ones are actually around gender. From a law enforcement standpoint that can be extremely dangerous. You may perceive a petite female regardless of her race, she’s neatly dressed, she’s standing there with her purse and an officer may not use the same amount of discretion of officer safety when interacting with her because, what’s she gonna do? Well, in that purse could be a .357 Magnum. That’s extreme…. Part of our training has a really unique video; it’s actually done from a national television series. And it shows an individual in a park and they’re trying to get a bike loose; it’s chained to a pole. Whether you be an African-American male or Hispanic or Asian male, people just kind of walk by and they look at you. If you’re a female people stop and help you. And in reality, it wasn’t her bike. It’s kind of interesting. You don’t even think you do that kind of thing, but we do.

“There are implicit biases around race, we know that. And there are implicit biases around origin — people from the Middle East. And that’s developed over time looking at the events of the world and people see someone in a different light. What the police department is trying to do, and what we’ll continue to do is identify those and train in a way that they don’t play in the equation.”

Deadly force

“An officer’s always going to try to de-escalate. And we teach a variety of tools to help them with that. We teach tactical communications. We try to teach them to read body language in a better way to know what’s coming because ultimately we are — and it’s not a cliché — we’re peace officers. The idea is we restore the peace when we’re there. That’s the goal. Sometimes we need to counter escalation, and officers may have to make an arrest or they may have to use one of the tools they have to make an arrest, and we consider that a use of force. Officers are only to use the amount of force necessary to affect an arrest….

“If someone has a weapon, and they are threatening, then under the law they are considered escaping by means of a deadly force. I will tell you that all levels of force are authorized, but most officers are going to use everything else at their disposal. Obviously we can’t let people who have a gun just run off into the city. Because then they run around the corner and kill someone else; we’re gonna be looked at as, ‘Why’d ya let ’em go?’ So it becomes a case by case; it becomes very difficult. But if you ever have the opportunity, a lot of case law’s written around that. It doesn’t happen often where we shoot someone for running, but equally if you’re just leaving the scene of a homicide where you just killed three people and you’re leaving with a gun, I think we’re expected to stop you at all costs.” 

Police body cameras

“I’m very comfortable with that question because I’ve been very involved with the cameras. I was part of the team that has created the proposed state legislation that the city’s putting forth. I’m very comfortable with where we are. I agree with the fact that it is important that we have some level of transparency and some ability to show certain videos. Personally, and this is what the legislation reflects, I think it becomes if you’re involved in a video that I would love to have a mechanism in place that I could show you that video. ’Cause you were there originally anyway. And that seems to be where most of our contention or complaints come from is you recall something and you want to confirm you recall it, and either the video’s gonna confirm it or say, ‘Okay, maybe I didn’t do it that way.’ Oftentimes under stress we don’t remember things correctly. I would like to have the opportunity if you and I have an encounter and you want to complain about it that I can bring you in and say, ‘Okay, let’s look at it, maybe even explain why it worked this way. And then at the conclusion of that if you still want to complain, we’ll investigate it.’

“I have to balance that with the need for privacy though. The proposed legislation in a nutshell says that you can come see a video you’re part of, that you’re legal guardian if you’re under age can come see it, that if you have obtained legal counsel that a legal counselor can come see it. And I think that’s the right balance right now. I don’t think it’s fair for you as a member of the media to say, ‘Hmm, have we been to anybody’s address on Mayflower?’ and just start randomly going through videos looking for people and invading their privacy. Because police have to have the assurance that they can respond — and let’s be quite honest — when people are at their worst sometimes. If I go to your house at 3 o’clock in the morning because you and your wife get up and your 13-year-old daughter has run away with her boyfriend, I need to be able to come there and do my job and help you through a bad time without you worried about coming to the door in your jockey shorts and it showing up on YouTube for your employer to see it tomorrow. That’s one we make fun of, but equally if you and your spouse are in a relationship — you have domestics — almost a quarter to half of our homicides every year are domestic related — I don’t want to hinder your estranged wife from picking up the phone to call us to deescalate it because she’s afraid you’re going to lose your job.

“We have to balance that. I understand the desire for the public to see the video. In reality there has to be a level of trust there that if I can get a mechanism to show you or show counsel or what have you, and when we look at the deadly force ones, like the [Chieu-di-Thi] Vo shooting, it’s reviewed by us, it’s reviewed by the district attorney’s office, it’s reviewed by the state of North Carolina. So there are multiple layers. It’s not like it’s this great secretive vault that sometimes gets portrayed.”

What if the citizen whose encounter with an officer is documented in the video authorizes its release to the public or wants to share it?

“At this point, the legislation would say no because the department retains it. But I will tell you the reasoning behind that: The reasoning behind it is, as we see — and you go to YouTube and see a hundred videos — we think it’s important that if we start releasing these pieces of video that it’s in its entirety. We don’t want someone that is purposely looking for a support to an argument to release parts and pieces. The bottom line is, ‘Look, they arrested me, they’re putting me over the hood. I’m arrested for no reason.’ ‘Well that’s because you chose to delete the first 15 minutes where you spit on three people and poured beer on somebody else.’ So we haven’t found a way that we can balance that yet. Our hope would be that we hope we can find that balance. And you’ve got to remember: It’s always open to court order. And if you feel like that you’ve been wronged and the department has not met your needs and you went through our complaint review process all the way up to the city manager and our [complaint review committee], then you get an attorney and sue us. And if it’s any fact to it, a judge is going to go, ‘Okay, then you have it.’

“Because the truth is — you may agree or not — we have a good complaint process. It goes to the police department. Then it goes to our CRC. The CRC has a right to view all videos. These are made up of citizens. Once they see it if they don’t agree with the findings then they’ll send it back to me as the chief of police to review it. If they don’t agree with my findings, then they take it and they go to my boss; they go to the city manager. You have multiple layers there. You hear all these things that happen. They really don’t. They don’t happen that often that people are not treated fairly in that system. But ultimately we’re in a great country that allows — if you think the entire system is bogus, then come after us in court, and a judge can order us — and I’ll give it to a judge in a heartbeat with a court order.” 

Internal vs. external hires

“I think there are times in the life of the organization when you need a new direction. That doesn’t necessarily sell out the previous guy. It’s just there are times you need it. That plays to the strengths of an outside chief. But equally I think there are times when the department is doing good things and going in a good direction, and we don’t want to start over, so that plays to the strengths of an inside chief.

“And I think we’re there. NOP is something we’ve been working on for almost two years, and we’re getting ready to implement. You look at our citizen surveys, we’re doing well in the community and we’re gaining ground. Still have work to do, but we’re gaining ground. You look at our engagement level, we’re doing good and we’re getting better and better. And I have ideas to continue to get us better. But I think we need to keep that momentum going, so that plays to the strengths of an inside chief.”